Researchers claim "turning point" in fighting Alzheimer's
British scientists say they've discovered a chemical that could help prevent the death of brain tissue in a neurodegenerative disease, such as Alzheimer’s. Much more research needs to be done, but they contend that it could be a "turning point" in treating Alzheimer's, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s and other diseases.
The research team at the Medical Research Council Toxicology Unit, based at the University of Leicester, focused their study on the natural defense mechanisms built into brain cells. Typically, when a virus “hijacks” a brain cell, it leads to a build-up of viral proteins. Cells respond by shutting down nearly all protein production in order to halt the virus's spread. However, many neurodegenerative diseases involve the production of faulty or "misfolded" proteins. These activate the same defenses, but with more severe consequences. The “misfolded” proteins linger and the brain cells shut down protein production for so long that they eventually starve themselves to death. If this process continues to repeat itself in the human brain, it can destroy movement, memory, or sometimes death.
The study, published in Science Translational Medicine, reported that mice with prion disease developed severe memory and movement problems and died within 12 weeks. However, those given the compound showed no sign of brain tissue degeneration. The study notes that the compound did cause side effects with the pancreas in the mice, and some developed a mild form of diabetes.
Lead researcher Giovanna Mallucci told the BBC, "What's really exciting is a compound has completely prevented neurodegeneration and that's a first." She said the compound offered a "new pathway that may well give protective drugs" and the next step was for drug companies to develop a medicine for use in humans.